Maria is madly in love with Dante. It doesn’t matter that he is a shapeshifter, spending longer and longer periods away from her in animal form. Maria’s motto is “you can’t choose who you love,” and she loves Dante, regardless of the increasingly brief moments of time they can spend together as humans. But when mysterious animal attacks start claiming lives close to home, does her love for Dante put her own life at risk?
Oh my holy hand grenades barf.
I love Sharon Shinn. Her Samaria books are some of my favorites, and I thought Troubled Waters was fantastic. She always has a heavy element of romance in her books, but her world-building is so intricate and her characters so well-realized that it has never been a problem. So I went ahead and bought this book without really looking at the story because I love her writing. Unfortunately, this book, set in modern St. Louis, has neither the world-building nor the characters to make it interesting. I like well-written romance. I have been known to swoon over imaginary characters before, so it’s not that I have a grudge against romance. It’s just…well, here, let me show you.
They don’t understand that what I have is so precious, so intense, such an essential part of my life, that I would not give it up for any inducement if I tried, or if someone forced me to, I truly believe I would die.
Does this sound like a 34-year-old woman to you? It sounds like a particularly pathetic 14-year-old to me. I am serious, she actually collapses to the floor in grief when he leaves once, lying curled up in a ball for hours. When all the doodoo finally hits the fan, what does Maria do? She watches on television while having a panic attack. Ooooh, that was helpful. She convinces Dante to stick around for another day once because she can’t bear to be parted from him, even though he needs to go find his brother to keep him from killing another human. Seriously. Sharon Shinn’s novels always evoke an emotional reaction from me. Never before has it been an overwhelming desire to bitch-slap the protagonist, however.
The “you can’t choose who you love” theme is woven through the novel in several different ways, but the other main thread is through the abusive relationship of one of Maria’s coworkers. Everyone knows that Kathleen is abused by her husband Ritchie, the makeup can’t cover the bruises well enough, but she refuses to let anyone help her, insisting she loves him and he loves her. Maria wants to help Kathleen escape her marriage so she doesn’t end up dying. However, Maria is just as trapped in her relationship. She doesn’t have any life outside of waiting for Dante to show up, just as Kathleen spends her life trying to keep Ritchie from getting mad. Both of these relationships are destroying lives, and even though Maria insists you don’t have any choice over who you love, you do have a choice over who you are in a relationship with.
The Shape of Desire holds up this completely weak pathetic clinging female who is willing to lie to everyone she knows, including her family, live her life waiting for a phone call, and trade away 15 years to stay in a relationship with someone who is only there a few days a month. And she gets a happy ending. Of course she does, because it’s a romance and everyone deserves a happy ending; but how many women are reading romance looking for an escape from their own life, trapped in loveless relationships, and thinking, “Gee, isn’t this romantic?” I mean, it’s obvious that Kathleen is the one married to an animal — he hits her, right? But the overly heavy symbolism of Ritchie and Dante fighting like two wild animals while Kathleen and Maria stand by helplessly — who is really in the relationship with a beast? — makes me wonder why I should be any happier for Maria staying in her relationship than I am that Kathleen got out of hers.
Also, a few other things that bugged me. Dante has siblings, and they all have wildly different levels of humanness and control over their shifting abilities, for no other reason than plot convenience it seems. It’s doubly annoying when they develop different levels of control for the same reason. The unexplained necklace showing up when it did — what was that for? Just to wring out a few more drops of Maria’s tears? And how in the world did Maria end up such a dependent little pansy when all of the women in her family are awesome and assured?
Finally — and this may be the part that irritates me the most — The Shape of Desire is book one in a series, which means Shinn is going to be writing more of these books instead of writing in some of her other worlds that I love. That’s the biggest disappointment of them all.